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Activists in New York Target 'Governor 1 Percent': Cuomo Under Fire for Refusing to Extend Millionaire's Tax

Tuesday night, Occupy Wall Street protesters marched to give New York Governor Cuomo the message: Stand with the people, not the 1%.

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Jonathan Westin, organizing director of  New York Communities for Change, told AlterNet in response, “[Cuomo's] true 'liberalism' is showing through, the fact that he's comparing a tax break from millionaires to the death penalty shows his true colors and where he's at.”

He continued, “His liberalism only goes so far until it starts to creep up on his millionaire donors.” 

The Governor and the 1 Percent

Before winning the governorship, Cuomo served as New York's attorney general, but unlike his predecessor in that role, Eliot Spitzer, or his successor Eric Schneiderman, Cuomo didn't exactly make a name for himself going after the big banks. Instead of fighting the tenacious battles Spitzer waged,  James Bandler and Doris Burke at CNN Money wrote of Cuomo, “He'd rather have a quick and easy settlement than a protracted legal fight.”

And Albany Project blogger and longtime New York political activist Phillip Anderson said, “Cuomo went after Wall Street just enough as AG to maintain the fiction that he gave a damn. Worked out well for both parties and he has been rewarded accordingly.”

Alyssa Katz wrote in the  Nation of Cuomo's election, “The big money in New York State politics—from real estate and Wall Street—is backing Cuomo against Tea Partier Carl Paladino and expects to be taken care of in return.”

And the numbers back her up. According to the  National Institute on Money in State Politics, nearly 10 percent of Cuomo's total campaign funding for 2010 came from securities and investment firms, a total of $2,057,027—only the real estate industry gave him more. Not only that, but he got approximately 50 times more than his largely self-funded Republican opponent, Carl Paladino, who raised $39,800 from securities and investment firms, and twice as much as Eliot Spitzer, who was elected New York's governor in 2006 before having to step down after a sex scandal.

Over his career, Cuomo's gotten $4,148,597 from securities and investment firms, $841,300 of that when he ran for attorney general (nearly twice as much as his successor Schneiderman got from that industry during last year's election).

New York's election laws allow individuals to give large amounts to candidates—several gave Cuomo over $55,000 each. One would assume that individuals giving $55,000 in an election cycle are probably making well over $200,000 a year (the cutoff for the surcharge for a single earner).

Cuomo says he supports a tax on the rich on the federal level, but doesn't want New York to be the only state with one, claiming it'll put the state at a competitive disadvantage. But it's hard to see how that could be true. No matter how much cheaper it might be to live in New Jersey, for example, New York's richest are hardly going to give up their parkside views and status parties for the suburbs.

Ron Deutsch of  New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness dispelled what he called “the myth of the moving millionaire” at a press conference for 99 New York, the new coalition pushing for the tax. He pointed out that between 2003 and 2005, when the state imposed a post-9/11 surcharge on the rich, they actually saw a 30 percent increase in wealthy tax filers, and that a 2007 study found that New York's richest are its least likely to move—whether that's because of those posh penthouses, the social scene, or the ease of the commute, the wealthy simply aren't going to pack up and leave.

Cuomo's attempt to appear to support the people while actually enacting business-friendly policies isn't exactly new to Democrats, but the sudden rise of economic populism in the form of Occupy Wall Street has him looking extraordinarily out of touch with his constituents on this issue.